Only in Fell’s Point-XXVI

Written by Mark Walker on Wednesday, 09 December 2009. Posted in Reprints from "The Fell's 'Pointer"

For Jack Gaylin, Foot of Broadway Was Magical

Only in Fell’s Point-XXVI
Jack Gaylin is a master magician who, like me, knew Dantini the magnificent when he pulled rabbits out of hats along the foot of Broadway. Jack moved to Fell’s Point in 1936 at age 5, when his mother purchased the Liberty Bar at 708 S. Broadway. She paid $500, which included the building and liquor license. It had a rooming house upstairs. His father Tom ran a carnival business. People Jack met through him showed the boy magic tricks that served him well while he attended the No. 6 School at Aliceanna and Ann Sts.

After school, Jack often went over to the Port Mission House, now shops and apartments on the Square, where merchant crewmen between runs taught wood-working to neighborhood youngsters. He, too, eventually joined the merchant marine, serving at sea during the Korean War. He remembers a ‘Point long lost: when there were three wooden markets running from Thames to Fleet St. One of the stalls started featuring rabbit stew and neighbors soon noticed there wasn’t a stray cat to be found near the markets.

Jack can name all of the occupants along the 700 block during WWII, and all but four were bars. Indeed, cartoonist John Hix of the old Washington Herald declared in his strip “Strange As It Seems” that this was a world record for bars in one block. Hix competed with Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” (and also was akin to Walker’s “Only in Fell’s Point”-- editor). Among the all-star cast: Sadie’s, Toote’s, Persian, Evelyn’s and the Corrall.

For Jack, a procession starting at St. Patrick’s Church signified the war’s end. A mock coffin with an effigy of Hitler was borne down Broadway and tossed in the harbor. Unfortunately, the coffin wouldn’t sink. A passerby stripped to his shorts, jumped in and torpedoed the coffin lid. It sank and the crowd cheered.

Having a Sunday breakfast at Slainte’s, Jack talked about his boyhood days at Recreation Pier. It had a seamen’s library that delivered books to ships. A radio station (its tower still standing) contacted convoys. Inside were Ping-Pong tables, chess and other board games, along with a stage and theater. On the deck were basketball courts, swings, and hopscotch. The lady who kept law and order was about 60, quite ancient to the neighborhood children. She lived in the 600 block of Broadway, worked for Recreation and Parks, and was very strict-- “she knew every kid by name or reputation.” Right after the war, Jack’s mother sold souvenirs, “pawned” by returning servicemen, that were proudly displayed in the tavern window--from cartridges to flare guns and German potato bashers, i.e. hand grenades. Someone thought she was selling live ammunition, so the police confiscated the arsenal. About that time another innovation reached the pubs, indoor plumbing.

Jack’s mother sold the bar around 1956. As we strolled down Fell St., he said, “When I lived down here, that’s the area that people referred to as Fell’s Point. Everyone called [Broadway and Thames] the foot of Broadway.” After eight years at sea, Jack found his niche performing an illusion act. Until 1986, he performed at nightclubs and other venues throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Seeing the memorial Dantini plaque near the corner of Broadway and Lancaster St. revived memories of when he worked several ghost shows with the Thames Street Conjuror, Dantini. These midnight attractions were held in motion picture houses, such as the Grand and the Broadway, which had seen better days.

Jack now lives in Rosedale with his wife Patricia.

About the Author

Mark Walker

Mark Walker lives in Harford County with his all-suffering wife and son but arrives early for his job at Bond St. Wharf as a financial planner for Johns Hopkins Uni- versity. He usually has a meeting or two before the re- turn commute. His affair with the ‘Point began when he and his two brothers reached eligibility for the bars--often sources of his ‘Pointer writing. Asked about his dedication to local issues, such as Rec Pier and funding for preservation, he replied, “I take up a parking space here but I like to think I pay back part of that. I often think that more out- of-towners who work here could do the same.” His early efforts, with the late Bob Keith, to keep revival of Rec Pier out of the hands of developers, has proved prescient 10 years hence. Walker is also a magician and his ultimate trick remains a challenge--abating the Point’s gentrification.

Mark Walker won the Fell's Point 9/11 Selfless Community Service Award on September 11, 2012.